A game in which you play a character trapped in a game. Wait, what?
Bandai Namco are certainly getting their money’s worth with Sword Art Online. Based on the popular anime and manga series in which the characters find themselves trapped within an MMO game, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment began life as a PSP title, albeit with a different name, before making its way onto the Vita just last year. Now, with the addition of two little letters, Sword Art Online RE: Hollow Fragment finds itself ported onto the PS4. I can’t wait to see where the game will end up next…
RE: Hollow Fragment is a single player RPG dressed up in the clothing of an MMO. Being that the game is based upon anime and manga, fans of such will get a lot from the game, especially being able to see their favorite characters in video game form. However, this comes as a disadvantage to those new to the series, as it is often assumed that the player has knowledge of this world during play. A recap will offer the basics, but much of the dialogue, and there is a huge amount of dialogue, which reveals character relationships and back stories, relies on the player knowing previous stories and such. It can be more than a little overwhelming for the new player, but there is a lot of game here to enjoy, so it is worth sticking at it.
The story for the game branches directly from the source material, with an in-game glitch meaning the player has to work through the final 25 levels of the show’s core 100 level dungeon. To those new to SAO this may sound confusing, especially given the relative lack of of explanation. However, one good thing that comes out of a game that seems to start part way through an established story is that the player’s character does begin the game more than capable of dealing with what is to come. This is no weakling starter character, but one that already has a decent amount of skill, which will make players feel competent in the game from the get go.
To start with though, the player has the rather pointless chance to indulge in some character creation. There are a lot of options for the player to create their very own, unique SAO character, which is always nice. However, there is a lot of dialogue and cut scenes in the game, and in those the player’s character will always appear as the default character Kirito, which does spoil the whole character creation point somewhat.
Despite the character beginning the game as a powerful and experienced hero, the player will still slowly level up and gain access to skill trees which offer new abilities to play with. The combat and use of skills is designed to feel like an MMO, and so will feel quite natural to many players, and is quite exciting and fluid from the offset, leading to some really impressive fights.
Through their adventuring, the main character will also be able to invite a second, AI controlled character into their team, and there are quite a few to choose from. Players will be able to issue their team mate orders, but if they die it is game over and the player will have to return to the beginning of the area, which can be frustrating.
The core of the game involves fairly traditional MMO-stlye quests followed by some epic boss battles before moving onto the next level of the dungeon. Considering it can take a good couple of hours to work through each level, RE: Hollow Fragment is no small undertaking. Much of this time will be spent grinding and doing basic quests, but it still means there is a lot of content here. However, this decent amount of content is bolstered by the Hollow Area, an additional, optional area which was added to the Vita version of the game. In the Hollow Area, players can take on additional quests and earn highly desirable loot. Finally, players are now able to take on multiplayer quests with other players, or with AI if the player cannot get online.
As a port of a Vita game, which was previously a PSP game, it may come as no surprise that Re: Hollow Fragment doesn’t look especially great on the PS4. It looks dated, and there are some frame rate and tearing issues. Despite this, the game is bright and colourful, doing a good job of simulating this MMO world.
Sword Art Online RE: Hollow Fragment may have slightly grindy gameplay and dated visuals, but the sheer amount of content available to action RPG players makes it a very appealing package, especially for the low price the game is available for. Obviously, fans of Sword Art Online will get the most from this game, but with a bit of patience and time, the game has plenty to offer for any Action RPG fan.